Well, Haiti's going to be over before I finally get around to writing about it, so it's high time I get around to writing about it. I'm just going to go semi-chronological-probably-mostly-stream-of-consciousness on this one and see where we end up.

Flew here on a Sunday morning from NYC. Lunch in the hotel, and I realized I was once again eating salad in the third world again. Can't trust the water the lettuce has been washed in, but certainly can't trust unwashed lettuce anymore. Sigh.

I'm in the hotel everyone said to stay in - Hotel Montana - so that's nice. The room is clean and the bed is comfy and it feels pretty safe. Unlike most places I've worked in Africa, here in Haiti all of the hotels and office complexes and homes and apartment complexes have the gates and electric fencing and barb wire and whatnot - but here the guards have guns.

It reminds me a lot of Mozambique - the whole country seems to have that war-is-still-fresh-in-our-past kind of bombed-out feel to it. And it was poor before the violence too. Haiti's been a very up and down country in my lifetime, fortunately right now it *appears* to be an another up...the UN troops are here in full battle gear and riding around in their peace-keeping APC's and SUV's and whatnot - but hey, at least they are here. I don't fully believe that its them that are really keeping the peace, though.

The hotel has a couple fish ponds which I love and one in particular has a turtle in it I've named Steve. I always know its a good morning when I'm walking past on my way out of the hotel and I catch a glimpse of Steve out for his morning swim. Its become something of a superstition for me. I don't like leaving the hotel without seeing Steve.

They have a Domino's here but its the only western chain I've seen anywhere yet. Its kind of an odd bastion of bad-for-you food, and I'm more than happy to continue my eating trend of the last few weeks. I vacillate between the room-service cheeseburger and delivery pizza, and the occasional seafood dish.

People start checking out for the day at 4pm. Its not safe out after dark here - just like home in Nairobi - so I guess that's why. I stay later and I feel bad about it on behalf of my drivers, but they don't seem to mind. And I offered to drive, I already know my way around and it would be more convenient, but its probably better that I'm not anyway. If I did somehow get lost - I don't know enough French yet to find my way back to the hotel. Need to find a couple weeks to do an immersion course or something.

Speaking of French, I spent the last weekend on a last-minute whim in the Dominican Republic, less than 48 hours but still glad I jumped over. Explored Santo Domingo's downtown district - the ancient and lovely Zona Colonial - oldest church in the entire collection of the Americas is there. Still has cobble-stone streets and ancient architecture to explore, which I love. Sunday I had way too brief a time on the beach outside Santo Domingo, which is one of the worst and most crowded beaches in the country and was still insanely awesome - white fine sand and crystal clear water. Taxi drove me to the airport in my still-wet swim trunks and feet and ankles and calves still covered in sand. I drank a liter of beer on the way, which is the size beer should come in. Which put me in the mood for writing in the airport but I didn't have enough time there to finish what I was working for.

And then I was waking up on Monday morning and back at work this week. Tomorrow my team member and I are off to Plateau Central to see the field programs for a couple days. We're on a small 5-person charter plane and Veronica's a bit afraid of it but I can't justify a 4 hour drive over a 20-minute flight, plus we're driving back on Friday anyway, so its like splitting the difference. Since I'm still toying with the idea of getting my own prop plane, I'm kind of excited to be in one, since I haven't been in a while now. Well, minus the dual turbo-prop from here to SD and back on the weekend.

Saturday I'm finally starting the long trip home to Nairobi, with a 24 hour stay in NYC. I'll get to go to my church while I'm there!

The definition between the haves and the haves-not is not as visible in Nairobi as it is in South Africa, and particularly here in Port au Prince. Since the city begins to run up the hills that fence it in with the ocean on the other side, the rich mansions look down from lofty heights but not very far at all in actual distance from the cinder-block slums that stack up upon one another on the lower slopes, and down into the valley below, where they sprawl. There are big empty rock and trash-strewn riverbeds that cut through the neighborhoods - where the water runs down from the mountains when it rains. I can picture them full and raging when the hurricanes come. And I can picture the neighborhoods on the flat areas down near the shore underwater - but that I can picture because I've seen it before on TV - those are these neighborhoods that I'm driving through. These are the people that suffer and die when that happens. I look at the impoverished masses on the other side of my passenger window, and, like in Africa, they are the survivors here - the ones who made it. But here it seems more present somehow.

I'm glad I got to see Haiti. I'll probably be back here for more work - there's tons of need for it here and lots of opportunity for improvement in the organization. I wouldn't want to live here, but being in the DR and working on my Spanish a little bit made me realize I think I'd really enjoy living in a South / Latin American country for a change. I think I'd get finally fluent in my Spanish in a hurry, which would be awesome.

Time to leave. The nice thing about leaving the office so early (6 or 7) is that I actually have time for a proper workout - I've been biking for about 30 minutes and running 3-4 miles after. All in the hotel gym - I don't leave the hotel at night. Its been good. I watch the Little League World Series on ESPN while I work out. And I get to see the top 10 plays in the morning before my meeting with Steve on my way to the car.


Vacation blogging.

First off, there's a thing about my blogging. I fell behind in emails with more than a couple people recently, and as I've been trying to get around to telling them all - my blog has become something of a barometer of my free time / ability to have a personal life. Like, if I say, end up randomly working in 4 countries in as many weeks, and only have maybe 6 nights actually in my apartment in Nairobi, before flying halfway (literally) around the world for a few days at home before I have to be in NYC for a wedding and then I'm off to Haiti for work...and somehow in the midst of that a few things fall by the wayside - well, blogging is going to be one of them. So if you've been waiting on an email from me and haven't seen it, and I'm not blogging either - well safe money is that I'm out of pocket at the moment.

Of course if you check here and I am making regular time for blog posts, but haven't gotten back to me...well...errm. But when's the last time I actually had regular time for blog posts anyway, heh.

So there's a few things I need to write about. My first time in Ethiopia (all work), Brandon's bachelor party and particularly the street war (literally) that was going on outside my apartment complex when I got back that night. Then there were the wonderful travels home - I want to write a letter to BA so I'll post it here for blog fodder I suppose.

Before I bother getting to all of that - assuming I ever do - more importantly, the annual home-leave food update:

Evening one was depressingly homey with Mom's fresh cooked meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and a veggie mix (tomatoes and zucchini and stuff). It was awesomely delicious but way too healthy and next thing I was out on the couch by 8pm. Mom kept waking me up to try to get me to go to bed so they could have the couch for American Idol, which they ended up watching from the floor, hah.

Wednesday I woke up and stole some of the hash-brown and sausage breakfast mom was making for Joey, but not too much, because I knew lunch would be when I started The List.

The List is the veritable stable of fast food and other similar eat-out establishments that I consider any visit to California a loss without checking all or almost all off of. Without further ado:

Weinerschnitzel (check!) - 3 corn dogs and 2 chili cheese fries. A proper American lunch.

In-n-Out (check!) - A Double Double with onions. None of this ordering off the menu trendiness, I eat it the way God intended it.

Taco Bell (half-check) - 2 Crunchwrap Supremes (this only gets a half-check because a full meal from TB should really be more rounded out with things like chalupas and 7-layer burritos so I'll just have to make up for it with more late-night goodness tonight).

Carl's Jr. - the only serious competition to In-n-Out, I have yet to have my Famous Star with cheese.

Burger King - whilst the Whopper is an otherwise solid contender in the burger realm, it cannot hold a candle to NorCal's other dominant options (listed above). Thus, it must wait til I am in NYC, on trips where I have this option.

McDonald's - like BK, a 20-piece McNuggets and large fries is waiting for me in NYC.

Round Table Pizza - fit for the knights of King Arthur's circular dining furniture, I got a $5 coupon for a large at the baseball game last night, which I fully intend to use. Speaking of baseball games...

Oakland A's Coliseum (check!) - nothing beats a Wednesday night's game's Dollar Dogs - Mom, Jonny, Peter and I all went down to see them beat the rangers, and I ran off to catch the bottom of the 1st whilst I had Jonny bring me 3 of them. Also: peanuts, sunflower seeds, Peter flirting with the kettle corn girl but not actually buying anything, not one but 2 different streakers on the field, and nearly getting kicked out of the stadium along with half of our section right behind the Ranger's bull-pen for harassing Francisco, the thug who threw a chair at a woman here 2 years back. Good times.

Bel Air's take-out chinese - There's this thing that I've not ever seen anywhere outside NorCal in the US, and this thing is a really solid take-out chinese counter inside a grocery store. Both Raley's and Bel Air offer this here, and its a thing of greasy beauty that I will not board a plane without partaking in.

Those are pretty much the must-haves. There's also a salad from Fresh Choice, which would be nice but is not a deal breaker. Now that NYC has a California Pizza Kitchen and a Chevy's, I can have those there too. I have a completely separate and slightly healthier NYC list that includes things like Maoz, some streetcart lamb sandwich action, Jon and Tony's pizza (best in the city, and the apartment I'm sitting for while I'm there is RIGHT ABOVE IT), a club sandwich from Dish, and a City Bistro burger.

Man I miss the food here.


Early on in the (rather excellent) movie Fight Club, Edward Norton's character meets Brad Pitt's character (well, so to speak), and they have a brief exchange whilst sitting next to each other on the airplane they're on. Ed tells Brad about his "single-serving friend" idea - how he meets people on airplanes and considers them "single-serving friends" just like the single-serving of butter they give you, and the single-serving of salt, etc.. And its clever, because its accurate - the way you meet people in small doses when you travel for a living. Pitt goes on to tell him that its clever, and then asks him how being clever is working out for him.

I like to say I make fast friends (fast in the speed sense, not in the intensely close sense). I become friends with people perhaps more quickly than you would in other places / situations, and that's kind of easy particularly here in Africa. You bond with your fellow expats pretty quickly. Take Alan, for instance - I met him at frisbee on a Friday a few weeks ago, spent a night out or two with him and friends over the weekend, and by the middle of the next week had invited him to take over my spare room while he finished his apartment search. No biggie. That wouldn't happen in NYC.

The problem with fast friendships is that they tend to exist and then end that way too. I would say of the group I've bonded with here in Nairobi, approximately a 3rd of them are the longer-term expats - here for multiple years with not much of a looming horizon on when they might move on. The rest of us are faster. We come in with 6 months or maybe 8 or a year. But that's it, then they're off, back home, or somewhere else. Its not a bad thing per se, it just is what it is. But it is sometimes very sad.

Right now I'm not sure where I fall - I came here on a 2 year contract but who knows when work will take me elsewhere for longer periods. I just found out this morning that I'm not returning from my 2 weeks in the US that begin tomorrow directly, instead I'm off to Haiti for a couple weeks of work. I probably travel too much here to really be considered in the 33% of those who are long-termers. In the last month I've worked in 4 countries.

When I first started playing ultimate here in Nairobi, I met a really cool couple of dudes named Chad and Matt. They both worked for International Justice Mission, an organization I've been a big fan/supporter of for a long time. Chad was married to Jill, the sweetest girl you ever met. I saw them each week at frisbee but that was about it. Then Rosemary, a girl I work with, invited me to her church, Mamlaka Hill, which has since become my own church here, because it is awesome.

My first Sunday there, they ask the visitors to stand and then bring around a microphone so we could introduce ourselves. I didn't see Chad, Jill, and Matt in the crowd, but they were there and heard my introduction. That afternoon at disc, they asked me if that was me, and I said it was. I began running into them at church and giving them a ride back to their place, and we'd have brunch occasionally after.

I didn't spend nearly enough time with them while they were here and I regret that very much. I came to enjoy them immensely as friends and just really great people. Matt left for home in Alaska and then he's off to Cairo for more school, so I hope to see him again sometime soon. Chad and Jill left tonight, returning to Texas. I know we'll stay good friends but I have no idea when I'll see them again. I sure am glad to live in the age of the internet, though.

This happened a good deal in NYC as well, albeit on a more prolonged track of sorts. But it too is a transient place - people come and people go. Some day one of your best friends might just announce she's moving to London. Some day I might up and tell everyone I'm shipping off to Africa. And I guess I was that person - the one who left. Its just kind of the way things are, when your life involves travel. You sacrifice a lot of what-might-have-been with some really awesome people. Its just that way.

But it doesn't mean I have to like it.